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“Her name is Thia,” Ray interrupted. “Thia, this is Grace.”

“Thia is such a beautiful name, Abel told me it’s short for Cynthia, is that right?”

“Yes,” I said. The name Abel sounding oddly familiar, although I didn’t know who Grace was referring to.

“Welcome, welcome. I am so happy to meet you. I wanted to come pluck you out of that dark garage, but I was warned to give you some space and that you’d come out when you were ready, and HERE. YOU. ARE.” Grace reached over and with a strength I didn’t think the frail older woman had, plucked me from my seat and pulled me in for a hug that threatened to crush my lungs. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said out of the side of my mouth, my cheek pressed up against her clavicle as she smushed me to her boney chest.

Ray chuckled. Grace pulled back and set me back down onto the chair. She sat and recrossed her legs, taking another sip of her drink. “Thank you for bringing my boy home,” Grace said.

“Your boy?” I asked.

“Abel,” Grace said.

“Who?”

“Bear,” Ray said.

Abel.

Bear was Abel. I’d known that. He’d told me that when we first met but I’d always thought of him as Bear and almost completely forgot that he’d told me his real name.

Abel.

“I didn’t bring him home. I needed his help and, I didn’t know where else to go…” I said, unsure of how much I should be telling her. “It’s a very long story.”

One I didn’t want to talk about. Not then.

Not ever.

Grace waved me off. “No need to explain. You’re here now and so is my boy and that’s all that matters.”

“Are you Bear’s mom?” I asked.

“No, but I’m the closest thing he’s got to it. Someone has got to look after these boys. Before Ray here came along all they had was me and I did my best to make sure they knew that my home was their home,” Grace said. Ray twisted a silver ring on her left hand and I wondered if it was an engagement ring or a wedding band. “And now that you’re here I won’t have to worry so much about Abel.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not staying,” I said. “I’m leaving. Really soon, actually.”

They didn’t have to know how soon.

Grace tossed the newspaper she had been reading onto the table in front of me and I caught it before it slid right off the table. The headline on the front page was the same as the one from Bear’s phone a few days earlier. Except this time there was a picture of a girl under the headline.

A picture of me.

“Well, it doesn’t look to me like you’re going anywhere, anytime soon.” Grace sighed and leaned back like it had been settled, and I was staying regardless of my argument to the contrary. Which I noticed was a pattern with Grace. Ignoring anything she didn’t want to believe was true and settling for her own skewed version of what was going on.

“I’m so happy my boys have found you girls,” Grace said, despite my argument that Bear and I were not together. I wanted to argue but Ray shot me a look like she was telling me that I was fighting a losing battle. “I’ve loved Abel like he was my own since the very day Brantley brought him over to the house.”

“Brantley?” I asked.

“King,” Ray corrected. “My King. My fiancé.”

“Abel had ridden his motorcycle right up on my lawn after a downpour, leaving deep valleys all the way up to my plant beds, then he left a grease stain the size of North Carolina on my love seat.” She cupped her glass with both of her hands and looked into the ice like it was replaying the day she’d met Bear right there in her drink. “He was too young to be driving that damn thing, told him so myself, but by the next time he came to the house he was a natural. That boy was born to be on a motorcycle. The man and the machine.”

I’d only seen him on a bike once and it was driving away from the gas station and even though I was just a kid at the time I knew exactly what Grace was talking about when she said he was born to be on a bike.

“He was a funny one too,” Grace said.

“Funny?” I asked. Bear was a lot of things. Rude. Crude. Sexy as hell. INFURIATING. But funny was a side I hadn’t seen.

“Very. Used to tell me a new joke over my mama’s meatloaf on Thursday nights. The most ridiculous jokes that he probably heard around the club. Most of them the filthy kind you couldn’t repeat louder than a whisper and couldn’t say within ten miles of a church, that’s for sure.” She shook her head. “As he got older, slowly but surely, the light in that boy’s eyes grew dimmer and dimmer, by the time he rode off a few months back, there was nothing left in them. Broke my damn heart.” Grace wiped a tear that spilled from her eye. “He deserves better than to walk around this world alone and with his own broken heart.”

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